Client and Learner Needs Determination
In order to be successful, Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) programs have to provide the information and the referrals that effectively address the needs of both clients (those who walk into our programs or contact us in other ways) and learners. Needs determination is the basis for providing the most helpful services, supports and programs related to an individual’s needs.
A needs determination (sometimes called needs gap analysis or needs assessment) is a method for determining client/learner needs and finding ways to attend to them. Needs can be merely wants or options or they can be necessary, must-haves or requirements. Needs can also be problems that require solutions. Generally speaking, needs are what has to or should take place to move from the way things are (current state) to the way they should be (desired state). A needs determination deals with this gap.
Needs Gap Analysis
- Desired State: Dawn went in to Connections Adult Learning with a request to learn two things that she didn’t know in Excel. After a little discussion, Dawn also said that she was out of work and that she wanted to be a bookkeeper or work in administration in another capacity.
- Current State: As the literacy worker talked with Dawn, she found out that Dawn hadn’t worked on Excel since the 2003 version. The interview also revealed that Dawn had no accounting software training and she did not seem to know about double-entry accounting.
- Needs: Together they did a little occupation and labour market research. Through this information, they found that in order to meet her goal, Dawn would need bookkeeping knowledge, up-to-date spreadsheet training, a good understanding of accounting software, most likely a college certificate or diploma. The Essential Skills Profiles for Bookkeeper show that a level 4 is needed in numeracy and digital technology and a level 3 for the rest of the skills.
- Gaps: The worker then suggested a LBS assessment to determine Dawn’s OALCF levels. This would help determine if she needed to upgrade any of the competencies in LBS and if she had sufficient levels to fill other gaps needed to reach her goal (bookkeeping credit, software training, possible college program and funding for it). Dawn’s assessed skill levels in the Understand and Use Numbers competency showed some gaps.
- Solution Options:
|Upgrade skills in Understand and Use Numbers and Digital Technology to the end of level 3, including some applicable software programs||Blended Literacy and Basic Skills training|
|Do more in-depth research on her occupation choice and labour market||Employment Ontario Employment Services|
|Take a high school bookkeeping course||Local adult high school program, online credit courses or ILC.org|
|Consider a college program in Administration or similar occupation||OntarioLearn website and college sites for further information on requirements, costs and availability of courses. Employment Services and OSAP website for possible funding options.|
Not all of the solution referrals need to take place at the initial interview. Some may be more appropriate at a later date, when the client/learner is ready to move to another step towards their goal.
When a client walks in our doors, we are expected to find out what the client needs. It may turn out that LBS services are not what the client is really looking for or what they really require.
LBS practitioners are not expected to be able to answer all of a learner’s needs. However, we are expected to “have a process in place to identify each learner’s information and referral needs in an efficient and effective way.” (LBS Service Provider Guidelines) Your program may have already developed its own processes. If this is not the case, here are some important steps to include:
1. Determine the learner’s needs through a needs gap analysis. (For more on this see Client and Learner Needs Determination earlier in this section.)
2. Determine if there are resources within your agency or the community to meet the learner’s needs. (See Identify Appropriate Interventions or Solutions further on in this section)
3. Make appropriate referrals using established protocols.
4. Some learners are able to do their own research, make their own contacts or make their own appointments if you give them the information they need. On the other hand, if it appears that a learner needs help to connect with the suggested agency or person, provide them with appropriate assistance.
5. Document the information that you gave to the person (if appropriate) or referrals you made in the learner’s files. Input a Referral Sub-goal and Plan Item into the EOIS-CaMS or provide the information to the staff member who does the EOIS-CaMS updates.
6. Follow up with the learner or service (if you have permission) to ensure that the learner was able to get the help/service needed.
7. Document the referral result in the learner file and on EOIS-CaMS.
Identify the Gap and Need
As we have said, the first step in the needs determination process is identifying the gap between the current and desired situations. As shown in our earlier example, to do this we need to find out what the learner’s current “state” is and where the client or learner wants to be or what the want to do (“desired state”). As each gap or issue will have different solutions, it is important that we are clear and specific. For example, a client may walk in and tell you he needs help writing a resume. In the chart, we have set out basic current/desired state pairs we might discover through investigation:
|Current State||Desired State|
|Does not have the writing and document use skills to complete a resume||Have the writing and document use skills to complete a resume and similar documents|
|Doesn’t have the computer skills to do a resume on a word processor||Have the technological skills that would allow him to create documents such as resumes, using computer software|
|Has a resume that needs one item added to it||Have someone add the item for him|
|Is out of work and needs even further help in finding a job than a resume||Have the job search skills to get a job.Have a job|
There are a number of “investigation” methods to help you determine the need. Different techniques may be more suitable for different circumstances. Combinations of techniques may be necessary to drill down to the problem. Here are some suggested methods:
- Observation – Sometimes just watching a client or learner can provide insight on what the “gap” might be. For example, you might notice the learner seems to have vision problems that are affecting the learner’s ability to read.
- Asking – Whether within individual interviews, focus groups or questionnaires, we can often find out what a client or learner wants just by asking. Asking questions during an interview would probably be the best technique in our example of the client who wants help with resumes.
- Discussion – Regularly discuss the learners’ needs with them. Provide open opportunities to discuss challenges and barriers. Consult with people in key positions or with specific knowledge. Sometimes, caseworkers or relatives can provide insight into clients’ or learners’ needs (if you have permission to discuss them).
- Assessments, tests and work samples – These documents may provide you with specific skill gaps that need to be addressed. Make sure, however, that assessment and test tools and solutions are appropriate to the client/learner goals. Work samples from an employer are particularly useful as they provide context to the skill gaps.
- Records – School records such as Individual Education Plans (IEP) and high school transcripts can be very useful.
- Research – To determine the true gaps, you may need to investigate what the “desired state” entails. For example, you might use the Essential Skills Profiles to determine which competencies and levels are necessary for employment in a particular occupation.
Trust and a supportive relationship help in determining learner challenges and needs. The willingness of learners to disclose (directly or indirectly) the challenges they have and support they need to address them may depend on trust. This trust can be developed between a learner and a staff member over time. The identification of needed supports is most likely to occur when the learner feels that the service provider is trying to address challenges and solve problems and is not judging the learner. Once the relationship is established, learners understand that some gaps can be addressed outside the LBS Program and that staff will facilitate the necessary referrals to other service providers.
When investigating gaps, remember that actual needs are not always the same as perceived needs or “wants.” People do not always know what they need. Sometimes, they want to learn things that they don’t really need to reach their goal.
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